Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fellowship of the Barks: Dogwalking Adventures in Kathmandu

We don't have fire hydrants. Our sniffable places are way more fun.

I've been terrible at writing my blog lately because I've been so very active with my exciting, exotic life. (Well, I thought I'd try saying that, in case someone who doesn't actually know me stumbles onto this blog.) Plus my camera broke and I'm trying to write a book and I've been busy shopping at my favorite store, Excuses R Us, and also I've been working on becoming more active and healthy and getting in shape for trekking, which is kind of a big part of the point of living in the Himalayas, although to judge from the way most of us really live here, life in Nepal is more about, say, going to Salesway to find out if maybe they actually have tomato paste this season.

So in order to climb Himalayan peaks, I naturally want to find forms of exercise that don't involve going to the gym all the time. Because ... ummm ... that would be artificial. (I knew Excuses R Us would come through for me.) And it turns out that, according to various calorie counters out there in WebLand, you can burn an amazing number of calories with everyday activities. For instance, ironing burns 88 calories an hour. Setting the table burns 102 calories an hour, so if I'm planning a dinner party that involves a table that takes an hour to set because it's for a wedding in Game of Thrones, that'd work for me. (Plus, if it's a Game of Thrones wedding, there'd be all that cleanup afterwards.)

"Calories burned walking a dog" supposedly come to 107 calories for only 30 minutes. I could do that. Except for one problem. They don't calculate it by the standards of dogwalking in Kathmandu.

If you walk the dog in the "developed world" (which as we'll see soon is not in the least "developed" from a canine perspective), you walk along a pristine sidewalk at a moderate-to-brisk pace while the dog sniffs a bit and trots along and you both enjoy the scenery and burn calories and breathe the clean fresh air, and then the dog poops and you scoop it up and put it in a bag and bring it home, and that's about it.

Here you go adventuring. You collect a Fellowship and leave the safety of the Shire and travel through Dangerous Territories. Let me explain this by describing my Dog Walk this morning. We'll start at our own little hobbit hole, where Sandy hooked up with Khoire, her BFF, who lives in our compound and is sort-of owned by the landlord mainly because she won't leave and they gave up.

Local meat shop.
With, of course, a street dog hanging around.
If you're a dog and you come near, you are competition.

And if you're a person, that's your pork dinner.
Who needs Saran Wrap?
I had to get some eggs, so we went out into the back lane where Khoire and Sandy met up with their friend Panther, a street dog who hangs around outside the house of the lady he followed when she gave him a cookie. She feeds him now, but he isn't really hers, exactly. (I explain the categories of dogs in Nepal here.) With Panther was another friend from the lane, a grizzled brown fellow with a face like an Egyptian pharaoh. Don't ask how this is possible. It just is. Reincarnation, maybe. I don't know if he has an owner, but he's always in the back lane, looking Egyptian.

Sandy, Khoire, Panther and Pharaoh then went down to the end of the lane, where ... uh oh ... it became the territory of other dogs. Three of them were hanging out in the street. One had a broken leg and was limping, and the others looked ready to blame any other dogs for their friend's broken leg.

Sandy didn't want to go anywhere near the Gang of Three, but I had to get the eggs, so tug tug pull as the dogs sometimes circled each other and sometimes made strategic formations to block the road and sometimes just stood there frozen and looking pointedly away, "Dog? What dog? I'm not a dog. Nope, don't see any other dogs here," but at any rate Sandy wasn't going in the direction of the egg store, in spite of tug tug pull, until ..

                  ... saved by the Spitz! 

It was one of those fluffy lap dogs with pointy fox faces and snappy teeth that you always see because they never stop yapping, and people here adore them. They're everywhere. They're turning Kathmandu into that Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles, except yappier.

Kathmandu, invaded by Japanese Spitzes.

This one was on the end of a leash. A leash? I'm not sure I've ever seen another dog on a leash in our 'hood, besides Sandy. It was probably diamond-studded, because it looked like that kind of Spitz. So since all the other dogs were self-respecting members of the great old noble house of Street Mutt, the two packs -- Sandy's Fellowship and the Gang of Three -- decided to join together and defend their mutual honor and chase away the yappy fluff-mop that was embarrassing them all and causing this blog to conflate Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek into one mess of a pop culture mash-up, and it was all because of the Spitz.

But still, the Spitz is the unrecognized hero of the hour, because Spitz and Owner (or maybe Owner's Servant or more likely Spitz's Servant) were heading to the egg store, so as a result I did get to the egg store, really really fast. GET THAT SPITZ!

At that point I was trailed by the Gang of Three and Sandy's Fellowship and wrestling with Sandy to keep her from (a) running south to escape the Gang of Three, (b) running east after the Spitz, (c) running north to join the Gang of Three who turned out to be okay because they all opposed Spitzification, (d) enjoying the garbage on the road because it was there, or (e) all of the above simultaneously.

How many calories burned? Who knows? There wasn't any distance covered. This is all within a few minutes of my house. But as entertainment, it's pretty good. For both myself and the dog. I feel sorry for American dogs, who don't get to have adventures every time they leave the house. The dogs of Kathmandu travel through territories, gather whole packs of friends, face off rival gangs, make friends with rival gangs, chase roosters, get their very own holiday when dogs are worshiped, meet sheep, avoid cows, bark at goats, definitely avoid water buffaloes because they're way too big, roll in muck, and have so many stinky smells to enjoy that if the dogs of the world could pick a vacation spot, this would definitely be it.

Incidentally, here's another advantage: That part about scooping up poop and bringing it home in a little bag? Not here. Nope. It's a gift that a dog leaves to the other dogs of the 'hood, even the Spitzes if they can smell it through their perfume, and they all enjoy it and the interesting information it surely contains, and as soon as Kathmandu is advertised to the dogs of the world as an Adventure Vacation Destination, that will definitely be one of the perks.

See how cool it is to be a Nepali dog?
You're always making new friends on your street.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exodus: It's Dashain Time Again

Yeah, that'll be us.
Well, it's time to cue up Bob Marley in preparation for sitting for hours behind trucks and buses painted with Bob Marley's smiling visage as we join the exodus of almost everyone from Kathmandu to almost everywhere else in Nepal that isn't Kathmandu.

It's Dashain again. The biggest holiday of the year. The time of the year to worship the goddess Durga and celebrate her victory over evil by going home to see mom, dad, and all your friends and relatives who have also gone home to mom and dad. Which means ... well, I'll quote Thursday's Himalayan Times:

"Some 1.3 million people have exited from the Valley since September 11, the day when the booking for bus tickets was opened. An additional 1.2 million people are expected to leave the Valley in the coming nine days. Some 3,000 buses are said to leave Kathmandu daily for various destinations. An additional 500 buses have been pressed into service this time on the existing fleet of buses."

Over 70 percent of the estimated 4 million people of the Kathmandu Valley come from outside the Valley, and most go back during Dashain. Like, well, us. An estimated 85,000 people are leaving each day -- at the moment. Which is still the good time to go, to beat the crowds.

We'll be going at the bad time, just before the main days of  the festival. So we'll be on the exact same two-lane road as a good chunk of Kathmandu. In fact, we'll all be in the exact same LANE, because all roads may lead to Rome but only one road, basically, leads to Kathmandu, and no one goes in to Kathmandu during Dashain -- if you're in a Kathmandu family you're already here -- so that'll be, what? A hundred thousand people in a single lane?

Here now, for your Dashain pleasure, is my proposed Road Appropriate Dashain Song. With appropriate scenery and apologies to Bob Marley.

Two trucks bump. All traffic stops, for miles and hours.
Because, well, this is the road. All of it. So whaddaya do?
Exodus, movement of  Nepali people
Exodus, movement of Nepali people

Men and people will fight you down
If you try to get a ticket late
Let me tell you, if you can sit in the bus aisle
Everything is all right

We're the patient nation 
Trod through many tribulation
So we gonna ride, alright
Up and down, up and down on the highway
Then we gonna walk, alright
Up and down, up and down on the mountain 

Exodus, movement of Nepali people
Exodus, movement of Nepali people
Seriously? You want to name your truck
after a famous disaster?

We know where we're going
We know where we're from
We're leaving Kathmandu
We're going to our fatherland
Send us another Durga
Gonna part this traffic jam, alright

Exodus, movement of Nepali people

Exodus, movement of Nepali people

Move Move Move Move Move MOVE, you darn traffic!

But it's worth it, right?
Because you get to see your family!

  दुर्गा पूजा २०७१ को उपलक्ष्य मा हार्दिक शुभकामना !

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Landslide Season

We had tea there; now it's in the news. What's left of it.

This restaurant looks awfully familiar. That is to say, both "familiar" and "awful."

There were two lethal landslides last week, and one hit a place with a quirkily typical Nepali name, Typical Restaurant, in a village with an even better name, Pumdibhumdi. It's such a good name I wish I had an excuse to say it over and over, under better circumstances.

If you want to go to (or leave) Pumdibhumdi,
learn to row. Or pay the lady in back.

Who, you'll notice, was not given a lifejacket.
Because Nepal.
We've been there. It is (or was) on the banks of Phewa Tal in Pokhara, on the side of the lake that's all green, as opposed to the side that's all tourists and pina coladas. The inspiration for the hike was the lady in the picture at right, who lives there. The lady at the oars, not the one sitting there looking like some colonial memsahib. I'd try to Photoshop myself onto the oars to give a much better impression, but that would lose the whole point, which is that while she was rowing we talked to her, and she's from Pumdibhumdi and makes her living plying boats across Phewa Tal, which is also how her kids get to school in Pokhara, because their village has no road. We were so amazed that there was no road to a village directly across from Margaritaville Nepal, aka Pokhara's Lakeside, that we figured we'd find out for ourselves what the area was like.

It turned out to involve trees, cliffs, more trees, and more cliffs. You couldn't really get close to the lake; it was all too steep and forested. We were grateful that one trail somehow led us accidentally down down down onto the aforementioned Typical Restaurant with its tea and boats. The whole place was a landslide waiting to happen. But then again, so is much of Nepal.

The landslide, when it did finally happen, took the lives of four sleeping workers, ages 18 to 28. I'm not sure what the landslide toll is this year, but it seems to have been eight just last week: the four at Typical Restaurant and four at yet another landslide in Sindhupalchowk, which is the same district where a landslide a few weeks ago drowned a village, killing around 200 people, displacing thousands, blocking the only highway to Tibet, and creating a new lake where the road and highway used to be. (I use the term "highway" loosely, in the Nepali sense, which basically means a paved road that goes somewhere important and may possibly, but not necessarily, have up to two lanes.)

This used to be a village.
Also the only road north from Kathmandu to China.
The Sunkoshi River swelled into a lake after a landslide.

People are raising funds
and supplies for victims of the Sunkoshi landslide through campaigns
such as Fill The Bucket

Which is, of course, terrible. And if you live here, it also means things like: To drive or not to drive? I've been wanting to go to the village for the Teej festival, and going to the village, like going anywhere out of Kathmandu, involves this long and winding road ...

The Prithvi Highway, which is how you drive into and out of Kathmandu from basically anywhere.
Kathmandu is a valley, and traditionally it was wonderfully well fortified, being located -- well, HERE.
So nowadays, whether you're a truck carrying goods to feed and clothe the city's millions
and supply us with fuel for our traffic jams and buffaloes for our momos, 

or whether you're in a bus or car,  you'll almost certainly approach or leave it on this two-lane road west.
 You take it to go east from Kathmandu, too. Driving east  involves driving west  for four hours 
until you drop south, reach the plains at Narayangarh and find ... ANOTHER ROAD!
Then you can fiinally start east. OK, there was also a road north to Tibet (China.) It's a lake now.
And there's a southern road, the Hetauda Road, but it's often one lane. (How do you like backing up in mountains?)
So this is pretty much it, folks.

But I have a strong preference for not getting caught in a landslide. Or on the other side of one, since we'd have to wait it out while the newly formed hill was cleared or a trail built over it. (About 600 tourists trapped on the Tibet side of the Sunkoshi landslide were ferried out by helicopters. WIMPS. I'd wait to walk out, like all the Nepalis. But then again, I don't have a plane to catch. Or anyone offering to pay for my helicopter.) See the trail below? That's over a landslide that blocked a road for so long it got onto maps.

How to get across a landslide.
This is on the "motor road" on the western loop of the Annapurna Circuit --

specifically, in Myagdi district between Beni and Tatopani on the way to Mustang / Muktinath.
We had to get out of the bus, trek up and over the Landslide Mountain
(about 45 minutes, as I recall, with my elderly but tough Nepali in-laws),
and then get on another bus on the other side. Private vehicles, for obvious reasons, weren't an option.

Anyway, we decided if it didn't rain steadily for two days, the ground would be okay (in Nepali Roulette terms), and it only rained a little bit, so we did end up going to the village. Along the way, on the stretch of the Prithvi Highway between Kathmandu and Naubise marked by tight hairpin turns and vertical walls of rock and dirt along which trees and bushes cling gamely but unconvincingly -- the stretch that, if you live here, you probably think of as "the really steep part" (because, like Eskimos with all those ways of perceiving snow, you've learned to differentiate "really steep" from various other levels of steep) -- we counted TEN LANDSLIDES. Little baby ones. They were just covering a bit of the road, but weren't blocking it. Yet. 

The  road is actually very pleasant, in its way.
To the right, there's a dropoff (down down down) to the Trishuli River;
to the left, that's a wall of dirt (hopefully not ready to fall).
Wonder what's around the corner ...

Feel like a monsoon drive? It's not too bad. Most of the time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stop the Presses!

Finally, in the epic saga of Waiting For Godot's Constitution: Year VII, we have progress.

It's right there on the front page: CA Panel Agrees on Title of New Constitution.

In case you're either (a) not in Nepal or (b) in Nepal but have the good sense to avoid reading about politics, I will helpfully reprint the lead paragraph from The Himalayan Times, which reveals the Biggest Stop-the-Presses News To Ever Emerge Out of the Constitution Writer's Workshop and Coffee Club.

A meeting of the Constitutional-Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee 
headed by Unified CPM-Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai meeting today 
agreed on the title of the new constitution. 
The new constitution will be called Nepal’s Constitution.

Yes! A name! Seven long years have we waited, as the space probe Dawn got most of the way to the Ceres Asteroid Belt, and three generations of elephants were gestated and born, and the spirit of Magellan circumnavigated the globe twice, and World War II was fought and won, and Shakespeare wrote his first 14 plays, and Bollywood produced 7,000 films ...

                 ... in that length of time, the committee has written two actual words for the Constitution. The title. And that's the most important part, right?

I'm sure the fact that Nepal's Constitution will be called Nepal's Constitution comes as a relief to anyone who worried it might be called India’s Constitution. The argument, actually, was over whether it should simply be known as Nepal’s Constitution, in plain old Constitution Next Door style, or if it should receive an impressive middle name, like Federal or Republic or Pro-Socialist. Personally I’m in favor of calling it WRITE ME. Or INSERT CONSTITUTION HERE. But we here in the Land That Proves Anarchy Can Work (As Long As All the Young People Go to Qatar) will take what we can get and rejoice.

Now I think I can make a prediction. In another seven years, we will have a first sentence. Let me suggest Call Me Ishmael, which is short enough to be written in seven years. And then we can wait as our esteemed Constituent Assembly Members go off to hunt the white whale. That’s good, because whales are smart, and by the time they find it, the whale should have evolved hands, so maybe it will be able to write the rest of the document for them.

But what I still want to know is: Who gets the rights to the HBO mini series?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

500 Miles to Bollywood: How an American Tune Went South Asian

I often think that old American folk songs would be wonderful in Nepali. All those songs about being down and out and far from home would translate perfectly to, say, the plight of a remittance worker. In fact, I'd thought that somebody should put 500 Miles into Nepali. It would be a great hit, right?

Turns out it already was. Although it changed a bit in translation.

The other day I came outside while our driver was cleaning the car -- oh be quiet, folks in America, you wish you had a driver too, just like I wish I had roads that didn't resemble a bumper car rally (or would if I tried to drive myself) -- and he had it on the radio. "Hey," I said, "I know that song. It's American."

"They must have stolen it," he scowled. Which is his default expression anyway. He used to be a Maoist guerrilla and it's a long story, but he fought a revolution and now the roads are full of terrible drivers and he is not happy about that at all. "It's from an old Hindi movie. It's a classic."

"We didn't steal it. You guys stole it. Really, it's American," I said, "and I can sing along." Hindi is close enough to Nepali that I figured I'd easily spot the not-too-challenging lyrics: lord I'm one, lord I'm two, lord I'm three, lord I'm four, lord I'm five hundred miles away from home.

Nothing of the sort came out of the radio. "Well, OK, I can HUM along." And I did. Yet he was unconvinced. It's apparently a classic Bollywood love song played at weddings and family gatherings, and everyone loves it because it's so sweet, as you can see in this touching scene wherein two men gaze lovingly into each others' eyes and waltz together.

(Note: If you do "subscribe by email" you'll just see some blank air below. Although that's elegantly minimalistic, it doesn't quite convey what I mean. Click the title at the top, which I think is blue in email, and it'll take you to the blog to enjoy these lovely musical moments.)

If you're American or European and actually watched that, STOP LAUGHING. In case you can't stop, I can make you, because here is what it's copied from, performed sweetly and sadly in 1965 by Joan Baez, who can never make anyone laugh, EVER. Dear Nepalis and Indians: Notice the audience singing along through their tears, so they're already familiar with this song in 1965. Which means it came before Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye. Really. 

Westerners may be curious to know how the lyrics of our old campfire favorite translate into Hindi. It seems like a natural, doesn't it? Five hundred miles from home, not a shirt to my back, not a rupee to my name. Great stuff! Well, here's what Bollywood does with it, in the 1990 hit film Jurm. Which, incidentally, is a police drama, so those waltzing guys must be singing policemen. It's called Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye, which means When Things Go Wrong.

Whenever there is a problem
Stand by me, my beloved
There never has been nor ever was
Anyone other than you in my life

Uh, OK. But that's not the first time it's had a rewrite. Five Hundred Miles is attributed to folksinger Hedy West in a 1961 copyright and was a staple of the folk revival of the 1960s, but this was before lawyers discovered the entertainment industry, because Hedy West's "creation" can be traced back at least as far as 1898. And it's had a lot of musical offspring. First up: A strikingly similar tune called Nine Hundred Miles. It was first recorded in 1924 by a Fiddlin' John Carson. Here's the legendary folk musician and civil rights activist Odetta knocking everyone's socks off in 1963 with her bluesy take on Nine Hundred Miles. 

It also has a twin called Reuben's Train, first recorded in 1931 by a Kentucky musician named Emry Arthur (who also recorded the first version of Man of Constant Sorrow in 1928). Here it's being picked by the great bluegrass band The Dillards in 1963. Sounds pretty familiar ...

Come to think of it, they're actually triplets. Here's an alternate version in the bluegrass and old-time music world called Train 45; several early recordings came out in 1927. (A list of early recordings of all these versions can be found here.) Here's how it sounds from the bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, which has helpful subtitles in case any Nepali or Indian readers are still not convinced that the original version wasn't a Bollywood love song:

In all of the versions of 500 Miles or its predecessors, whether from Woody Guthrie (1944) or Peter, Paul and Mary (1962) or any number of folk musicians, some poor fellow is far from home, or "going where the chilly winds don't blow," or "trying to read a letter from my home," and he wants to "railroad no more" or get back home where he belongs. It's a mix-and-match quilt of classic folk lyrics, stuck into a tune that can be touchingly sad or soulfully bluesy or full-steam-ahead bluegrass. But I must say that Bollywood is the first to see its potential as a wedding song. 

So that's how a piece of Americana ended up on radio stations in Nepal as a "golden oldie" from 1990 called Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye. It also goes to show that if Bollywood wants to do a knock-off of the tune, they're welcome to it, because everyone else has fiddled with it too. But seriously -- why did they change lyrics that would work so fantastically in this part of the world and turn it into total schmaltz?!? 

Although I do like the guys waltzing together. That was a nice touch. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nepal's Health Care System, Part I: Let's Visit a Pharmacy!

It occurs to me that if you're in Nepal, you'll surely get sick at some point. And that means you'll have to navigate the Health Care System, part of which is helpfully shown above. If you're a tourist who stumbled onto this blog while trying to figure out what's wrong with your stomach, my advice would be: Check your guidebook. It'll tell you useful things like "go to CIWEC Clinic," which is an internationally famous traveler's medicine clinic, and since you have health insurance back home and a credit card you won't mind paying the prices. (They're triple the norm, or maybe ten times. I can't remember, because the last time I asked, my wallet jumped up and hit me on the head. Helpful hint: The doctors at CIWEC have outside practices, too, at non-tourist prices.)

But if you live here, what you really do is check sites like WebMD and then go to the local hole-in-the-wall pharmacy to get whatever you've diagnosed yourself with, because living in Nepal has magically turned you into a doctor and if the internet was any faster you'd soon become a specialist. Then they try to sell you Cipro.

This is an actual transcript of my recent trip to our local storefront pharmacy. Incidentally, everything is over-the-counter here. Especially Cipro.

Me: I need some medicine that starts with D. It's kind of like Brucet but with a D. It's for foot pain.

Pharmacy clerk: (showing me Brucet, which is ibuprofen) It's not this?

Me: No, that's Brucet. It starts with D and the pills are little and round. I had the package but I lost it.

Pharmacy Clerk: Do you have a prescription?

Me: A prescription? Ha ha ha, this is Nepal!

All Pharmacy Clerks and Customers in Unison: Ha ha ha ha ha!

Much of this is probably Cipro
Pharmacy Clerk: (Goes to shelf and starts pulling down boxes that start with D) Is it this? Or this? Or this?

Me: No .... no .... no, that's vitamins ... no, that's eye drops ...

Pharmacy Clerk: Or this one.

Me: That's Cipro. It starts with D and it's definitely not Cipro.

Pharmacy Clerk: (Glancing at shelves piled high with dusty pill boxes.) That's all we have.

I don't leave, because success in Nepali is achieved by the patient. (Um, this is definitely not a pun.) Other customers come to the window. They probably get Cipro, because every time you go to the pharmacy you will be offered vitamins and Cipro, which if you're American you'll recall as the super-potent antibiotic to treat terrorist-induced anthrax, but here is used for things like ear wax removal. The pharmacy person ignores me to chat with other pharmacy people, give people Cipro and vitamins, and check Facebook on her cell phone. I stand there patiently and smile. After a few minutes I catch the eye of another Pharmacy Person.

Me: I need a medicine for foot pain that starts with D. It's a little white pill and it's like Brucet but it's not. Also it's not Cipro and it's not anything like Cipro.

Pharmacy Clerk 2:  (Looks at other Pharmacy People. None of them move. Checks cell phone. Apparently Facebook has no updates. Comes over and begins pulling down boxes.) Is it this? Or this?

Me: (reading label) No, that's a vitamin. It starts with D.

Pharmacy Clerk 2: Is it this one?

Me: Yes, that's it! Thanks, you've been so helpful!

And now you know how to get medicine in Nepal. It's actually quite convenient. OK, it won't be so convenient when we all get antibiotic resistance from using Cipro on earwax. But oh well, we can always go to the shamans. My husband had typhoid as a kid and his parents called the shaman, who made him eat the gall bladder of a bear and pigeon poop. At least he didn't get antibiotic resistance. Although he's pretty resistant to another round of bear gall and pigeon poop.

Also available in Nepal: shamans. 
Try this to treat resistant bacteria. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

How Nepal Beats America For Women. Really.

Tharu woman in my family's village. You can bet she votes.
And if she ran for office, her chances would be better than a woman in America.

I make fun of Nepal a fair amount in this random collection of stray musings that serves as my blog, because if you live here and aren't entertained by it you might as well pack up and go home. Unless you're Nepali, of course, in which case (a) you don't have much choice of leaving unless you want to carry bricks in Saudi Arabia, and (b) you at least have the good fortune to be genetically programmed to be perhaps the smiliest group of people on earth, which is evolution's way of saying "I can cope with being Nepali."

I've gotten off topic even before I started, but it's true. Nepalis even smile and laugh when they argue, and when they're really pissed, the smiling and laughing increases. Nature vs. nurture? Well, my kid basically emerged from the womb with a big grin on his face, which is why it took me at least a decade to realize he was arguing with me.
Smile smile smile.
And if you can't, here's where you go
to get your teeth fixed.

So of course I rag on Nepal, which is what Nepalis do too, all the time. It's the national entertainment, along with smiling and laughing. But there are a lot of ways that Nepal beats America, other than the Smile Factor and the Lack of Electricity Factor. There's the Casual Pace of Life Factor, and the Walkable Neighborhood Factor, and the Supporting Small Business Factor, and the Better Public Transportation If You Ignore the Belching Smoke Factor, and the Groovier Clothing Factor, and so on.

The one I'm mentioning here, though, is women's rights.

Huh? Are we talking about the Nepal on THIS planet? 

Well, women don't exactly have more rights in daily life, obviously. Women here are still the household drudge -- even, by and large, if they're a professor or a doctor. But Nepal is beating America in one place that's pretty important: Women in government.

You might think this is because most of the men are off carrying bricks in Saudi Arabia, which may be part of it. But it's a good sign. I mean, I like Nepali men. They smile a lot. I married one, and he's honest and hard-working and doesn't even mind doing dishes, although he may be a little crazy because he came back here after escaping. (So I guess we match on the craziness index. Although he's better about dishes than me. I'm not that crazy.)

But the thing about Nepal is that it gets a lot of things right by accident, like having walkable neighborhoods, but doesn't exactly score high in terms of intentional things, like running a government. What politicians mainly seem to do is squabble, bicker and steal money. So politics in Nepal is a ridiculous mess, but at least it's a ridiculous mess that is starting to let women in. And you can bet that Nepali women know how to carry a broom. Which could come in handy in the halls of power.

Meanwhile in America, almost 100 years after women got the vote, we barely squeak past 18 percent in women's representation. Whereas Nepal is now at 30 percent and 37th in the world for women in office.

Okay, women in power aren't magically wonderful. But it's kind of impossible to be worse than men. Let's hope that when Nepali women politicians go home after a hard day of not writing the constitution, their husbands aren't sitting there waiting for them to bring the tea, whip up a five-course dinner, scrub the dishes alone, and then get up at 5 a.m. to do the whole thing over again while he talks politics with his friends.

So which country in the world elects the most women? The leader is apparently Rwanda, where things got so bad that it seems the women have finally told the guys to move over and get out of the way. The whole list is here, if you want to know where America stands and who else is ahead of us -- like Finland (number 8 and embarrassing the rest of the world as always), Norway and Denmark and Sweden (of course), and New Zealand (number 26 and beating Australia because it has an incentive). They all beat France and the U.K., which Nepal does too, but America is huffing and puffing way back in the line with the United Arab Emirates.

Obviously a list doesn't tell us much. China, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia also top America in "women's representation," so it's time again to google who the heck said that thing about "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics." But Nepalis can definitely look at the list and crow. Check out India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. All of which are trailing far behind Nepal, America and, er, Saudi Arabia like a sad line of bedraggled ducklings who can barely find the racetrack.

Let's hear it for Nepali women: strong, cool, and increasingly elected to office.

Women of Dolakha district, in the mid-hills. You can bet they vote, too. 
They'll also beat you walking uphill. Both of them.

My mother-in-law is illterate and was married at age seven.
She has run for local office from a women's rights group.
Woman tempo driver, Kathmandu.
Tempos are the multi-seat motor rickshaws that are called tuk-tuks in Thailand
and by foreigners who don't know that's not what they're called here.

The girls of Mustang, coming on strong. 

All together now ........ Nepal! WE'RE 37th!

Oh whoops. No women in the picture. Hmmm.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Who Needs Math at a Vet's Office?

My dog Sandy is not a Siberian Husky. But don't tell that to the veterinarian's assistant.

This morning, on our regular walk, I noticed that Sandy had a worm in her poo. I am very sorry for writing two posts in a row that mention dog poo, but that's just how it goes sometimes. Be glad I didn't take pictures. It was long, white, wiggly, and busy. Having been unceremoniously dumped from its old home, the worm's little head was poking around in the air searching for a new set of cozy intestines.

That called for a walk to the vet's office. This is Nepal, so you don't call to make an appointment for a week from Thursday and bring the dog over for lab tests. You just walk over, minus dog, unless the dog is really sick. (Roundworms don't count around here. That would be like going to an ENT doc for the sniffles.)

An assistant was on duty. This is a rough transcript of the conversation, helpfully translated:

Me: My dog has worms. I need to get some de-worming pills.

Vet's Assistant: How many kilograms is your dog?

Me: Oh, I'm not good at converting from kilograms, but she's 25 pounds. You can convert it on the calculator.

Vet's Assistant: (Ignores calculator. Hands over three huge pills) Give her these.

Me: Wow, they're big. One each day?

Vet's Assistant: No, all at once Put them in some ground meat.

Me: That seems like a lot at once.

Vet's Assistant: Yeah, they're for 10 kg each.

Me: But she's only 25 pounds.

Vet's Assistant: 25 pounds. That's like 25 kg.

Me: Uh, no it's not.

Vet's Assistant: She must be a really big dog.

Me: No, not at all. She's a regular local dog. Do you know how to convert pounds to kg?

Vet's Assistant: (laughs, smiles, looks vaguely at calculator) Ha ha.

Me: Ha ha. Because I think three pills is too much medicine for my dog.

Vet's Assistant: Ha ha. Give it with some meat, she'll swallow it all that way.

Me: I think I'll go home and do the conversion myself.

Vet's Assistant: That'll be 150 rupees.

I went home and did the conversion. Well, first I asked The Teenager, who is quite possibly the worst student in his school in Math, and might be even worse than I was, which is some kind of world record -- and who, this being a weekend morning, was still in bed and not happy to be asked a mental math problem. "If Sandy is 25 pounds, how many kg is that?" said I to the sleepy teenager. "Mmph grrr. That's about 11 kg," he groused, and rolled over.

Indeed. And it turns out that 25 kg is around 55 pounds. Which is the weight of a Siberian Husky. So that's who should get the three pills. For reference sake, in case anyone stumbled onto this blog while training to be a Veterinary Assistant:

Siberian Husky.
I mean the one at the bottom
of the pic, with the fur and all.

Sandy. Not a Siberian Husky.

This is a cow. It is heavier than 25 Kg.
It goes "moo" and blocks traffic. That's how you know it's a cow.

Sandy has now had her de-worming medicine (adjusted for her actual body weight), ably administered by The Teenager. Think he can get a summer job as a vet's assistant?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sorry About the Rooster

Dear Person Whose Rooster Was Tied Up by Tibetan Camp Road,

I didn't do it. Neither did my dog. It was the other dog, the one the Teenager calls Pooh because he is a big bear-ish dog of little brain. Also there's another reason, which is why our dog, Sandy, is often annoyed at him. I'll get to that later. Along with a glimpse of human kindness. But first, Pooh.

A few months ago Pooh was a pathetic skeleton of a homeless puppy near the veggie bazaar. Thin flea-ridden coat, barely enough fur to cover his tail. A neighbor felt sorry for him and gave him a cookie, at which he perked up and followed her home and sat by her gate being skinny and hopeful. So she put out some meat, and there he sits to this day. Fatter and happier.

He's clearly part Tibetan Mastiff, or Bhote Kukur, which is kind of rude in Nepali (since bhote is a slang term for Tibetan-origin people like Sherpas or Tamang, so it's like calling a Japanese Spitz a "Jap Dog"), but that's what they're called and this blog just reports the facts. People come from the hills with armfuls of fuzzy black puppies and try to sell them on the street for a lot of money, but I've seen Tibetan Mastiffs in Mustang and the street-sale pups are to them what Tyrion Lannister is to The Hound. The ones that don't sell are often abandoned.

Pooh is now a shaggy tank of dirt and hopefulness, and he's still a puppy although he's already bigger than most other dogs in the 'hood, what with being a sort-of Bhote Kukur. He's moving slowly from being a Street Dog to being a Whoops dog, since he now sleeps in the neighbor's compound at night and she doesn't kick him out until dawn. She's even given him another name, Panther, although I still prefer Pooh.

So let me explain the categories of Nepali dogs and how they come into people's lives. If you're in Kathmandu,  it helps to appreciate them, because there are a lot of them and they bark all night and you may end up with one.

1) A Haute Dog. In other words, a "breed dog," which means it's fashionable and pricey and had its brain bred out of it. At least that's the case with our landlord's German Shepherd, who was so dumb she ate her own puppy. Although she does know how to ride on a scooter, so I guess she's not always dumb. Just a fun-lovin' single gal who intends to stay that way. These days the status-conscious Nepali wants a "breed dog," so as long as you don't look too close at the pedigree and don't mind getting a Jerry Springer Production of a dog that is it's own cousin, you can have a sort-of German Shepherd (big and chained), Japanese Spitz (white, fluffy and yappy), Dachsund (long, thin and yappy) or of course a Tibetan Mastif (bearish and chained). There is a hysterically funny blog post from a Bengali guy that shows that Nepalis aren't the only ones who think a "breed dog" is today's haute urban accessory. But some folks didn't get the status memo, and they end up with ...

Sandy, the Reformed Street Dog,
is now under the impression that
she craves organic lettuce.
2) A "Can We Keep It?" Dog. That's a street dog that followed your kid home, or was found in a trash heap covered with fleas, or otherwise started life as one of Kathmandu's 35,000 street dogs. Our dog Sandy is a Can We Keep It dog. You can also acquire a dog after the neighbor's dog had puppies. But you will never have to pay placement fees or get home visits from a dog adoption agency to determine if you are the right match for a dog. It'll just appear, usually with your cookie in its mouth.

Khoire, a Whoops Dog
shedding her winter coat.

3) A Whoops-It-Lives-In-Our-Compound Dog is a street dog that decides it likes your house. First it'll hang around outside your gate, and then it'll jump your high brick wall because they're all Superdogs, and one day you realize it's been in your yard for a year. There's a dog like that in our yard. Apparently the landlord even took her away in a car once and dropped her off somewhere, but she came back and now she has won. The landlady feeds her and the landlady's son built her a den of spare bricks with a little tin roof and we got her fixed and give her belly rubs. Her name is Khoire, which depending on pronunciation is either Brownie or Mangy, and she's Sandy's BFF.

4) A Community Dog is a street dog that gets fed by people because they're there. They hang out at butcher shops to increase the odds. Most dogs you see on the street -- which is a lot of them -- have achieved the status of community dogs. They're dirty and often pelted with rocks and may be limping from a fight or an encounter with a car, but they're free, and kind souls will generally toss them scraps of meat and the occasional cookie to supplement their diet of garbage pickings. Life may be short, nasty and brutish, but at least they're not chained. (Many of the owned dogs have it worse. They're on chains or in cages all day. That should be another category -- Jail Dogs.)

5) A pure Street Dog is just waiting to find a friendly butcher shop that isn't guarded by other dogs.

Anyway, back to Pooh Bear and the rooster.

Pooh looooves Sandy and wants to play, mainly with his nose to her butt. Which is the problem. He shows up whenever she goes outside because he really wants to be friends, and the first thing Sandy wants to do is pee, because she lives inside and knows that peeing on the floor is bad for her career, and he sticks his nose closer in appreciation, Hey I like your pee, let's be friends!, and although Sandy appreciates the canine bonding value of a good sniff, still, she's busy, and so she does what you would do if someone walked into the bathroom to make friends while you were on the toilet, which is to say GRRRRRRRR, but he's too much of a twit to listen, and it gets old. Today, I kid you not, he wiped his nose on her butt while she pooped. He is an actual brown noser.

Dogs and humans have our differences in regards to etiquette, but we seem to agree on the non-desirability of a wet nose as toilet paper. She gave the dog version of what the HELL?!?, and he backed off but kept wagging friends friends hey let's be friends, and dogs are more forgiving than humans in situations like these, so she shrugged it off and they walked along together, and he bumped into her and sniffed and she wagged wanly in return and all was fine. And then they saw the rooster.

He was tied up by one leg on a narrow dirt lane that opens onto Tibetan Camp Road. Sandy was leashed and couldn't go too close. Pooh, though, was as free as ... well, much freer than the bird, that's for sure. He circled around and wagged excitedly and lurched at the rooster with his big brown nose and from his perspective probably hoped to sniff something, hey let's be friends, and the rooster said SQUAWK FLAP SQUAWK squaaawk SQUAAAAWK FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP

and broke the string and flew off into the great unknown.

Pooh looked confused. Sandy and I send our condolences to whoever was hoping to eat that rooster for dinner. It probably didn't go far, although you might have to climb a tree to find it. Lesson one: Roosters can fly surprisingly well. Lesson two: Roosters only stay tied up because they have nothing better to do. Lesson three: It's really dumb to tie up roosters on the street in Nepal. There are dogs like Pooh here, who will put a new idea in the rooster's brain, which is to break that wimpy little string and go someplace dog-free, like the sky.

I'll finish today's ramble about Nepali dogs with a really neat moment I caught outside a butcher shop (a.k.a. Street Dog Gathering Zone) ...

This boy is a street kid. He's probably one of many
who sleep on benches by the Jawalakhel micro stop.
He had a cookie, and he offered it to this street dog ... 

... who then licked his face.
They played like this for a while.
Two homeless guys, living on the street,
giving each other a moment of love and kindness.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yoga is a Spectator Sport

I've decided to rename my blog in honor of the Nepali New Year, and also because constantly fiddling with the name of my blog is a very good procrastination strategy, and I believe we should always practice what we're good at. Up until now, I've called it Too Lazy for Yoga, which is quite true, but I might like to show my blog occasionally to folks who aren't my family, and if they're Nepali they might think I don't like yoga, which is kind of like an American not liking baseball and also might get my visa revoked.

Whereas I love yoga. For other people. But I can't do it because I'm not that cool and also I fall over.

Still, if I had to pick between a Nepali sport like yoga and an American one like baseball, I'd pick yoga. Even to watch. Because at least I could follow what's going on. Plus it happens at my speed.

See what I mean? It's a spectator sport.

Except that if I ever did yoga, I wouldn't do it Western-style, with all the mats and meditation music. I'd do it Nepali style, on the dirt in the village, because then when I fell over I'd just be an American who didn't know any better and everyone would smile cheerfully and feel good that I was trying, whereas if I did it Western-style with other Westerners I'd just be an uncoordinated dork and when I fell it would make a big thump and the mellow groove would be totally ruined.

My father-in-law has done yoga for years and is as limber as Gumby would be if Gumby could twist into a pretzel shape. He's still limber even though he has arthritis, which he got while he was visiting us in the US back when we lived there and we thought my in-laws might like to live there, too. We think the arthritis happened out of boredom. Nobody but us spoke Nepali in the 'hood, and so he had no one to philosophize with, which for an old pandit from the village is like being put into a sensory deprivation chamber.

So first he discovered a talent for art and filled an entire book with colored-pencil mandalas. And then he read a book over and over in Nepali that's basically like Creationism from a Nepali Hindu perspective, wherein it's proved that everything in the world begins in Nepal, is invented in Nepal, and proves the central importance of Nepal to everything, ever.
The best thing about America,
according to my father -in-law

He said he liked America. Particularly the whipped cream. And then he got arthritis.

So we took him to see the doctor, which he never does because he always cures himself with meditation and whatever his dreams tell him to do, which usually involves lemons, and he lay down on the checkup table, and she said that his arthritis could improve if he did leg lifts, and I translated this to him badly so he thought it meant right then and flipped his leg straight up in the air and almost kicked the doctor in her nose. I didn't think the leg of a 74-year-old man could go up that straight. Or that fast.

He went back to Nepal and when he got off the plane his leg felt better, and when he got to the village he was bounding around like a spring Gumby.

So yoga is good. And as long as I could do it without actually moving, like a meditation yoga where you just think about doing amazing things with your body, it would be the perfect exercise.

Anyway, here are some pictures of Patan, where I live, with students at Pranamaya, which is our local yoga studio, which had the cool idea a little while back of hosting a walking tour of Patan in which they let ordinary people like me from the community tag along. It was fun and I met some great people. I know they look  normal, but they're not, because they can do camels and half-frogs and one-legged king pigeons and other gentle yet somehow unnatural-sounding poses without throwing their backs out. And if they ever get arthritis, they'll still be able to kick the doctor in the nose.

Pranamaya students on a stroll through Patan,
peering at things and taking pictures.
I'm the un-svelte one at upper left.

What they usually do. It looks very calming, but if I try it, I am not calm at all
because I am either about to fall over or actually falling.
This would be particularly un-calming in public like this.
Although fortunately it's near the hospital, which I'd need for my concussion.
Probably taking notes on poses from the guy in the foreground

A pose I can do

This is the part of yoga I like. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Happy New Year Vampire Story to Welcome 2071

I've been so behind in posting these days that I should call this Too Lazy To Blog. Which really would be a new high (or low) in laziness. But fortunately, a new year is coming, and so I can turn over a new leaf while I thank a vampire.

This is a non-sparkly Hindi TV vampire.
And yes, this is related to New Year's. Which is this weekend,
in the same part of the world in which this cheery fellow is considered
to be a fun character for a children's show. Who needs Big Bird?

OK, I know what you're thinking. "I'll let the vampire part slide for a minute, because you've clearly lost it, but what do you mean, new year? You may be a bit slow on the uptake, girl, but it's been 2014 for a while now." That's where you're wrong. Here in Nepal, we're almost done with the year 2070. This weekend, it will turn 2071. Here's proof in the form of a real Nepali New Year's card with a Nepali New Year's Unicorn (or maybe a New Year's My Little Pony) for those who don't find my New Year's Vampire sweet enough:

Our calendar is called the B.S. calendar. It doesn't stand for what you might think. And it isn't one of those calendars that just get trotted out on special occasions, so that people can go to a Chinese restaurant and say Happy Year of the Rat without really leaving 2014. No, it's pretty much NEVER 2014 here. Or January or April. Today, for instance, is Chait 27, 2070, not April 8, and if you're going to a government office or planning a meeting you'd better remember it because no one else will be paying the least whit of attention to April 8 and you will be 56.7 years late.

Of course, our confusing calendar does mean that this guy ...

My father-in-law, dressed in his Junior Soprano outfit in Mustang, near Tibet.
He knows the appropriate words to ward off vampires,
and since I'll post more pictures of them it's good to have him around for safety.

... was born the same year as this guy:

Teenager who doesn't like sparkly vampires
checking to see if cannon is loaded 

So what is the special occasion that is marked by Year One in the B.S. calendar? Well, uh, people aren't sure. The B.S. stands for Bikram Sambat, or Bikram's Era, and was supposedly established by a ruler named Bikram a.k.a. Vikramaditya -- alert readers may notice the V, but that's close enough to B for us here in the land of random spelling -- who may have created the calendar to mark his victory over the Sakas. They turn out to have been nomads from Kazakhstan. I have no idea how an Indian king ended up in Kazakhstan, but maybe that's why he needed a new calendar, along with a new map.

Anyway, some people see this as the same King Bikram who carried a vampire around. There's an old legend, dramatized in a classic children's series on Hindi TV, in which, listen up children and gather around the TV for your bedtime story, Bikram goes to a cremation ground where he meets an evil old sadhu who will give him a wonderful gift if he brings him a corpse. So Bikram finds the corpse and it turns out to be a vampire, ha ha it's not dead after all, and each day the vampire tells him a story that involves a riddle that Bikram has to answer correctly or die.

Bikram with the vampire.
I think I'd want a new start, too.
I'm picturing the production meeting. A story a day, for 25 days! Children love stories!

The first story involves a bride who tries to commit suicide after her husband dies. There is also a bandit attack and a beheading -- great, that means pretty bridal costumes for the girls, action for the boys! -- and then a mistake in which the husband's head is put on the wrong body and reanimated, and in the end there's an interesting educational riddle for Bikram and the kids to solve about whether the bride's real husband is the body with the wrong head or the right head with the wrong body.

I wonder if there are any action figures. They could have interchangeable heads.

Although at least our South Asian vampires could beat the crap out of any sparkly Twilight vampires. And the kids who grew up with Vikram Aur Betaal can be counted on to be able to cope with absolutely anything that life may toss them. Which may be the point. No electricity? No water? Third world politicians? No problem, I grew up with vampires at bedtime.

At any rate, everything in Nepal runs on the Bikram calendar: the governments, the schools, the fiscal year, the bus schedules, and apparently this blog as well since it's been so long between posts. I'm going to blame it on the whole B.S. thing.

So now, on the occasion of 2071, I think we should all have some drinks and thank a vampire. Because in the end, he teams up with Bikram to kill the evil sadhu (who my husband informs me isn't really a sadhu because they're never evil but a tantric, in case you've stumbled onto this blog while doing research for a term paper), and I guess the two live happily ever after, coming up with a new calendar or something. If you'd like, you can even download the Android app:

Happy New Year 2071, kids!